Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mythic Yoga: The Heroine’s Journey - Modern Feminist Mythological Guidance for Life

by Sydney Solis

The Heroine’s Journey offers women a distinctly different psychological process than the masculine Hero’s Journey. I put it to use in my mythic journey of healing when I spent three years abroad with my two children. You can take your own mythic journey too.

The Mythic Yoga Studio: Inanna Sydney Solis mythology and yoga
Inanna - The Heroine's Journey
via Mythology and Yoga
The Hero’s Journey, recognized by mythologist Joseph Campbell as found in all the world's cultures, is used time and time again to apply a mythic model as a roadmap to life. The traditional journey of having a call to adventure, gifts and then return, outline a masculine approach to the psychological experience. The Heroine’s Journey, however, is different, and this is the model I find as a woman more true to my experience and connects me to a deeper dimension of my life.

I first heard about the Heroine’s Journey at the Mythic Journey’s Conference in Atlanta in 2004. I took author and therapist Maureen Murdock’s eponymous class of the Heroine’s Journey. At Joseph Campbell’s behest Murdock created the feminine model of the mythic journey, outlined in her excellent book The Heroine’s Journey. From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey Through Myth and Legend by Valerie Estelle Frankel is another excellent book on feminist mythic journeying. I remember taking a playwriting class at CU Boulder with Laura Shamas. She, too, pointed out that there are different mythic models out there for life. One not about rising action and climactic events followed by denouement that models male orgasm, but a feminine one that features a series of events in dramatic cycles, much like the multiple orgasms of women. There really is a different feminine guiding mythology of which to view the world and live in its matrix with.

The myth Murdock called attention to in the workshop was the Sumerian Inanna, who, after shedding her posessions, descends to the underworld after she hears the cries of her sister, Ereshkigal, whose husband, Gugalanna the bull of Heaven, was murdered. Ereshkigal kills Inanna, and two creatures who descended after her showed compassion to the Ereshkigal, who moaned as if giving birth. She granted anything they wanted as a gift for their compassion. The two asked for Inanna, who was hanging on a hook like a piece of meat. The two beings sprinkled the waters of life and death on Inanna. This process of three days, much like the days before a new moon, returns Inanna resurrected to the surface world world, reborn. It’s a pre Persephone and Demeter (De- mater - the mother) myth, as well as pre-Christian. Joseph Campbell mentioned that women don’t really go “out” on a journey, because women are it. Where everybody is trying to get to. As life happens to women, such as the onset of menstruation, and a woman's body is identical to the universe, Campbell said. Whereas men have to go out on a journey and have experience special clubs and rites of action in secret societies to connect and find meaning to connect to the mysteries of life and death. 

Murdock outlined a woman’s journey, which begins with a split from the feminine. Our world is filled with many-a frustrated, angry and mean mother trapped in a patriarchal world or the isolated drudgery of housewifery. Women split from the mother aspect and identify with the father. This leads women to behave like men and value patriarchal ideals - wear the shoulder-padded suit, climb the corporate ladder, make money and be a “success.” But even when this is reached women enter a dry period or other crisis, such as an illness, Murdock says. Success and recognition fail to fill women up. Notice how many “successful women” may get breast cancer or other disease or become alcoholics in their pursuit of the masculine ideal, ignoring their feminine nature, values and processes of non-doing, nurturing and non-dollar-economy denominated work. After the “dry” period, women bottom out. A woman faces the lowest point - the abyss. That’s where the paradoxical shift comes. After that experience, woman is then on the upswing, reconciling with the mother, and then the father before ascending and returning to wholeness.
Sydney Solis Mythic Yoga St. Croix USVI personal mythology and yoga
Sydney Solis and Sergeant Pepe in
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Every woman is able to experience her own Heroine's Journey. I myself lived it. I used story, mythology and yoga. More than ten years ago after my husband died, I pieced together my life with what I called Mythic Yoga, attending the Mythic Journeys conferences, joining the Joseph Campbell Foundation and attending the mythological toolbox at Esalen. I began poring again through the Hindu myths my older sister and Hare Krishna yoga practitioner told me growing up. My father, who was born in the Dutch East Indies a concentration camp survivor, also pointed me on the mythic path, ascertaining throughout my life through his stories of the camp that there is no death. In order to "re-story" my life, I created my personal mythology of "The Queen of Bohemia"(In 1904 The St. Louis Dispatch ran a headline reading "The King of Bohemia" about my Czech great-grandfather Louis J. Tichacek, a Missouri senator) and started in 2009 a blog to help me deal with a difficult time in my life and, understand see myself clearly in order to forge a new identity that is healed.

As a child I never had a good relationship with my mother and did then identify with my father’s spiritual pursuits of yoga and meditation. I suffered a great deal of post traumatic stress disorder after my husband's sudden suicide in 2003 after his business went bankrupt, a casualty of post 9/11, leaving me and my 2 and 5-year-old penniless for a good month. Thereafter I bolted out into the world at hyper speed, creating the business of the Mythic Yoga Studio and Storytime Yoga® for Kids, bringing my kids with me to the kids yoga classes I taught.  I was going a mile-a-minute, doing so much I can hardly believe it now. The business grew quickly being in kids yoga and mythic yoga, including being featured in Yoga Journal magazine and on PBS. But the aridity hit. It was not easy to be a mom, run a household and a business. My kids’ were growing up and had many needs. I hit my dry period and bottomed out, had irregular pap tests and high-risk HPV. I wanted to return to being a mom and homemaker for their sake and mine. And to heal us all.
Mythic Yoga Studio: Nature, personal mythology and yoga
Spending time in nature leads to aesthetic arrest
and revealing maya.

I descended in true mythic fashion and just like Inanna, stripping away and selling most my possessions, putting the rest in storage, putting my business on hold and moving from my hometown of Boulder, Colorado to Buenos Aires with my kids to learn to live simply and well, by cooking from scratch, living simply and yoga home schooling them. ( Visit the Householder Yogini blog!) Together we experienced fabulous art and culture rather than the faceless suburbia Colorado and much of car-obsessed America had become. 

I practiced restorative yoga, ayurveda, meditation and ventured to every historic cafe in Buenos Aires, writing personal myth and memoir for myself and rediscovering who I really was - beyond the painful identify of a traumatic childhood and as a suicide survivor.  My personal fairy tale of the Queen of Bohemia, backed by the Hindu myth of Kali and Durga, enabled me to find courage, strength and clarity of who I was and make sense of the events in my life. I could fortify and recreate my self away from an identity of pain and trauma to one of healing and wholeness with this personal myth. For the third person narrative gives one the ability to self-reflect, svadyaya, one of the niyamas. Like meditation, it gives one distance to observe the ego self. Through story, photographs, meditation and yoga/body work, the ego mind is recognized and understood for what it is. Neti, neti. Not that, not that. Frank Bures says, "The ability to see one's life as a story is at the heart of identity. In fact, our ability to '"narrate" our life's events may even be the defining mark of consciousness." One can find thus find a transcendent state in viewing one's story, and start from there to recreate oneself after identifying with the divine. It’s used as long as needed for guidance and strength. Then, the story and image is abandoned when it's purpose as a boat to get one to the other shore is accomplished. 

After 5-months in Buenos Aires, we moved to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The kids enrolled in school there, and I continued my yoga and mythic yoga writing/story practice, isolated from the world but immersed in the resplendent nature of the garden, witnessing life and death as a constant and experiencing the nature behind it all in meditation and what Campbell would call "aesthetic arrest." I befriended a 73-year-old Puerto Rican Farmer, who I consider like a shaman, living simply but in the greatest wealth of all - the spirit. No wonder Jesus went to the garden to pray. It was a profound experience, connecting to the depths and the mystery of it all. And using Kali and Durga to slay my demons of fear, disease and negativity by uncovering stories that mythic yoga body work revealed. I had to die to one identity in order to be reborn anew with consciousness, the cosmos periodically renewing itself through me.

I found my “Little Piece of Paradise” as I call it, a piece of metaphoric real estate that is the blissful state of the transcendent.  Kali cuts off my thoughts, for as in Yoga Sutra 1.2 says, yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, allowing the true self to arise. This unity, for me to describe it’s like watching yourself wave to yourself riding on a float in a parade, but you are also there on the float waving back! Or you are the one watching the movie of yourself from the theatre seats, all the while performing in the movie of your life on screen. That dual/one nature, the paradox, blends and melts one’s mind into the ineffable, joyful and loving experience of being. From then on I felt grounded in my little piece of paradise, to carry it with me, and to abandon my Queen of Bohemia fairy tale and myth (she is still used in kids yoga!) After living a quiet lifestyle of yoga and storytelling on my little Yoga Farm St. Croix and living off of fresh food from the garden, my pap tests returned to normal and I was free of the virus.

That deep peace and grounding that followed this experience was revealed not in a flash but through a series of practice and time, like a slow release capsule. Of course, then, there was the mythic return left. To ascend again in wholeness. And so I did. Numerous problems with St. Croix ushered in our leaving island after living there for 2 1/2 years and returning to the U.S. Mainland. The main employer, Hovensa Oil Refinery, closed a year after our arrival and decimated the local economy. A mass exodus ensued. I didn't want to return to Colorado, for I left it to leave all my past. I thought it was painful to return, as each summer that I did visit my father and family the past three years confirmed in sorrow and difficulty. The climate also bothered me; cold, dry, windy, brown, high-altitude Colorado aggravated my vata. I am much healthier and happier in a green, humid, sea-level environment.

Mythic Yoga: Dream Work Sydney Solis
Dream work and dream yoga
provides ample opportunity
for personal mythology and healing.
This from aboriginal peoples of Australia
The kids and I settled in DeLand, Florida based on some dreams I had. As sychronicity would have it, my neighbors are filmmakers who worked on the Power of Myth video! I did visit my home in Boulder and my father this past Christmas. I aligned my body and mind through the ritual of Advent to the sacred and by not participating in traditional American consumption of the holiday. What died away in the season was the old me, for when I visited my father, not only was he more healthy and happier than at any time I had known him in my life, but the house I grew up in, which always was in disrepair and dysfunction, was remarkably fixed up and functional. My mother's anger and upset was replaced and healed by cleanliness and orderliness - and forgiveness. My younger sister, who had committed suicide during my time abroad, also hung close and things felt more healed.

 Psychologist James Hollis says that this is the retroactive healing of the ancestors. I had always intuited this, feeling that my father and my late mother healed through my own healing. And vice versa. It healed my late sister, my grandmother, all who suffered were now healed in the depths. All the suffering was transformed and it led to faith. Faith in the Self and the eternal presence. When we do our inner work, it affects the whole world. For it is in the collective depths that it takes place and it is united in love and grace.  

There is the eternal return. Life continues and periodically has an urge to renew itself,  So life goes on. New trials await, new experiences. But I am reborn, and always behind the scenes I have taken up real estate in my little piece of paradise, and my Heroine’s Journey was infused by feminine mythology and yoga that guided me there every step of the way. 

Create your own Heroine's Journey
with personal mythology and yoga.

There is nothing to do to start your own Heroine's Journey except start where you are. Practice yoga and meditation. Reflect on your life's story. Listen to your dreams, for Campbell says that dreams are private myths and myths are public dreams! Imagine yourself like a butterfly, dipping into and out of the dream and waking world with ease. Read and listen to the old myths. Dance, make art, sing, walk in nature as a personal ritual. Spend time with children. Attend storytelling events and start a storytelling circle. Keep a journal. Bring awareness to everything you do and turn it into the third person narrative. Make your own fairy tale and tell about your life. What myth arises? 
Read my example of combining Hindu Myth with my life story in the Mythic Yoga E-book, Vishnu's Dream. Use the Mythic Yoga E-course to guide you in using the myths in connection with your own personal story and in creating a personal body myth and ritual

Connect with others. For it is the present moment physical awareness and witness aspect of storytelling that connects us and heals us.  For mythology restores the neglected part of our psyches, the symbolic, instinctual part that has been cut off in favor of the intellect. Our mythic imagination guides us to our selves, as the universe continues to become self-aware of itself through us. It's imperative we bring mythology back to awareness for society's sake, especially youth. 

So! Start your journey! Re-imagine the world! Re-enchant it with mythology, yoga and story!

Namaste and have a magical day!


The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock

The Power of Myth - Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell

Sukhavati by Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Eternal Return by  Mircea Eliade